READING Cricket Club skipper David Barr admits the club's relegation back into the Thames Valley League is like a voyage into the unknown.

The Sonning Lane side lost their Home Counties Premier League status last season when they slipped out of Division Two West after finishing one place off the bottom.

It was a bitter blow for Reading who had gone agonisingly close to securing promotion to Division One the two previous years.

Now the club's first team, a regular supplier of talent for Berkshire Minor Counties sides, will be plying its trade back in the Thames Valley League.

And Barr is unsure what to expect as his side get ready for Saturday's opener, a trip to Basingstoke & North Hants (1pm).

He told the Chronicle: "We will be doing our very best to get back to the Home Counties League, but we think the Thames Valley is going to be a very open league in itself.

"It would be stupid of me to make predictions right now, especially as we don't know much about the league we're going into.

"All we can do is be well organised for matches, well drilled and try and put ourselves in contention towards the end of the season."

While Reading's slide back into the Thames Valley League is a setback for the club, they are not alone in this region.

Traditional rivals Finchampstead and Wokingham have both followed similar paths in recent years, and all three sides will once again lock horns this season.

"We'll be up against some familiar teams in Wokingham, Finchampstead and Beaconsfield," added Barr. "It's good to have that local rivallry, it makes it more interesting. But we're under no illusions, we know it won't be easy for us."

In the wake of the club's relegation, Barr has been busy setting up a new cricket academy at Sonning Lane, with the aim of providing homegrown talent for the first team.

He is being assisted by two promising South African teenagers Gareth Harte and Paul De Chaud, who are also available for first team selection.

The 18-year-olds went to King Edward VII School, whose former pupils include Springboks skipper Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie.

All-rounder Harte, who holds a UK passport, clobbered successive centuries for Old Edwardians recently, while De Chaud is also ranked as an all-rounder.

Both have played for Highveld Lions Under 19s and are expected to go straight into the Reading team this weekend.

Their arrival was arranged by ex-South African opener Jimmy Cook whose son Stephen played for Reading between 2005-06.

In addition, Reading have also stengthened in other areas with the capture of off spinner John Gaffney from Finchampstead plus seamer Alex Patterson.

There have been some departures as Berkshire's Luke Beaven has joined High Wycombe, while Shelvin Gumbs is at Loughborough University and is unlikely to be available until later in the season.

Jamie Hoddle, son of Glenn, was handed a scholarship with the MCC Young Cricketers, but should still be around to play a number of Reading's matches.

"We haven't played any cricket yet because the weather has been horrendous," stated Barr. "But it's the same for most clubs and everyone will be rusty.

"We're hoping to get off to a good start and we'll give it our best shot."